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A Timp By Any Other Name
by Chet Falzerano

Hollywood Meazzi (pronounced "may-ah-tze") manufactured drums in Milan Italy during the '60s and early '70s, boasting some of the most innovative design elements in the history of modern drums. The 1966 Hollywood Meazzi catalogue proclaimed, "The Hollywood of today is the instrument of tomorrow." The features of these drums caught the interest of prominent jazz artists of the time creating an endorser list that included Max Roach, Connie Kay (with the Modern Jazz Quartet), Jack DeJohnette, Billy Cobham, and Donald Bailey (with Jimmy Smith), plus nearly all the principal drummers in Italy.

Paramount of these design elements was the internationally patented President Multi Sound Tom Tom. Page 9 of the 1966 catalogue reveals, "The Most Revolutionary Instrument in the Field of Jazz. . .1 Tom Tom + 1 Pedal = A Full Sound Range. A Hollywood Meazzi Worldwide Novelty." Like most drum manufacturers of the period, Meazzi produced drums from professional (the President series) to student models. The Multi Sound tom was only offered in the President series drums in sizes of 14" x 14" "Jazz" and 16" x 16" "Concerto." Utilizing the concept of pedal timpani, the pitch of the drum is variable as pressure is applied or released from the external pedal. "Head tensioning is adjusted by completely lowering the top metal hoop. This hoop is connected to eight oscillation tension casings (lugs) transmitting its movement." Each of these oscillating tension casings is connected internally to a central pivot via eight levers (see Fig. 1). This central pivot is, in turn, connected to a rotating arm fastened to the shell via ball joints, eliminating the possibility of binding. "This system obviates all friction and ensures the soft and silent working of the instrument. No decentered movements can be made. A balanced shift is thus obtained, allowing an interval of a sixth. Here are the possibilities offered by the Multi Sound tom tom: 1) Glissando 2) Notes forming chords until a complete theme can be developed 3) Magnificent acoustic rendering 4) Immediate tuning in tone changes." The mechanism was fully adjustable including compensation for head thickness, pedal height, and a tone block (rendering the tom at one pitch for use as a standard floor tom).

Another Hollywood "first" included on the Multi Sound Tom Tom and all President model Hollywood drums were "bossless" hoops. ". . . hoops (are attached) to the tension rods by means of removable clamps so that drumheads can be taken off more quickly than usual since the screws do not have to be removed from the tension casings. Our system has been patented throughout the world." The lug-receiving inserts rotate, allowing the loosened tension rods and clamps to drop away from the drum (see Fig. 2). The head and rim can then be removed with the tension rods and clamps still attached to the drum. Those of you familiar with this head mounting system (later copied by Ayotte and Yamaha) appreciate the ease and speed of head replacement.

Shells of the President series drums were 1/4" thick and made from plied beechwood. The floor tom shell is five plies with a top reinforcement hoop of five plies (all other Hollywood drum shells were made without reinforcement hoops, a la Gretsch). One can appreciate the need of a glue ring on the top bearing edge with the stress put on the shell by the tunable system. Celluloid covered finishes were offered in "black and light blue pearl, herring-bone gray and light blue pearl, bleu tinsel and on demand, silver tinsel, turquoise, red, gold and black with stars." Also offered was "dark wood grain," a natural rosewood veneer, again, very innovative for the time. These drums were finished inside with a rosewood veneer, as well. Jack DeJohnette appears in one of the vintage drum videos playing a set of rosewood finish Hollywood drums.

The mounting hardware is unique as well. Each leg is a two-stage affair with the top half facilitating height adjustment with a memory lock system. Once the desired height is established, the adjustment screw beds in one of the grooved ringlets of the leg. When packing, the bottom half of the leg is removed and after a slight loosening of the height adjustment screw, the top half can be rotated towards the shell, thus allowing the drum to fit in a standard case. As long as the adjustment screw remains bedded in the original ringlet, the drum height remains constant (see Fig. 3). The pedal assembly is attached to two of the lower legs and folds completely (with the lower legs) for packing. Two adjustable spurs attached to the pedal assembly prevent creeping.

My first concern when I finally came upon a set of these Hollywood President drums was the claim, "This system obviates all friction and ensures the soft and silent working of the instrument." With such an elaborate mechanical system I fully expected a buzz or rattle depending on the pitch. To my amazement the claim was justified. With a little lubricating, the mechanism works flawlessly and silently, especially amazing as the drum has been around for nearly 50 years. Their claim that the weight of the drum "is little more than that of a normal tom tom" proved to be true, thanks to the use of alloys. My other concern – that the extensive internal mechanism would distort the sound of the drum – was unwarranted, as it rivals the sound of any 14" floor tom I've ever played.

This is a truly remarkable drum, so innovative that "Max Roach continued to use one even during his [later] relationship with Ludwig" (Batterie Hipercussion Percussioni magazine, February 2002). Meazzi was not the first, though. The WFL Drum Company (the precursor to Ludwig) offered a tunable floor tom in the late '30s, known as the "Ray Bauduc Model." In recent years, Yamaha offered a tunable floor tom but it's no longer listed in the product line. Bide your time, though, such a unique instrument will surely reappear as the "newest and latest" offering from one of the major drum manufacturers. Fortunately, history does repeat itself.

--originally published July, 2004

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